Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Washington Post's Disappearing Quotes

I've long thought that in recent years the Washington Post has been a key enabler of Metro's awfulness (here, here, here and here). With the exception of editorial cartoonist Tom Toles, the Post team seems blind to Metro's ridiculousness. The real baffling question is why.

Here again is another, very strange example of Post's odd reporting on Metro.

If you search for an article about the Great Green Line Charlie Foxtrot of 2013 on the Washington Post site, you come up with the first article embedded below.

The thing is that story is quite a different story from the original one published. Also below is a partial copy of  that story captured by a reader.

Quotes from Metro staff have been removed from the original.

For example in the original, the Post quotes Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn:
“We failed to assist customers with bus service at Navy Yard station,” Taborn said.
That quote is gone. It was the fifth paragraph of the original story. Removed.

More troublesome is that all quotes from Metro board members have completely disappeared. This whole passage is gone:
Board member Tom Downs said the “hairs on the back of my neck” stood up at hearing of customers evacuating themselves from a train and into a tunnel.

“Our job is to explain to customers they are risking their life exiting a train without any supervision or direction,” Downs said. Although there are signs on trains that warn passengers against evacuating , he said, it needs to be more clear.

“If you are exiting this train you are risking your life,” he said. “You are going to get killed.”
Board member Kathy Porter said passengers reacted in an “irrational manner” in exiting the train.
Also gone is mention that four people were taken to the hospital as a result of Metro incompetence. To be fair, the Post also stripped away mention that one of the train operators seemed to do a good job during the incident.

Why would the Post remove official statements from Metro's governing body? Why would they remove some key details?

More troubling is that in neither story did the Post report that board member Tom Downs actually suggested arresting passengers for "self evacuating,"  which is probably the most jaw dropping aspect of the whole sad affair.

What's up? Maybe there's some kind of technical glitch, but that shouldn't cause an entire article to disappear and be replaced with a watered down version. Allowing Metro officials and board members' statements to simply be expunged from the record is inexcusable.

I asked the reporter about the changes and omissions. They said they'd get back to me.

The Washington Post used to do great reporting on Metro, but now they seem reduced to mere stenographers for Metro's PR army.

Who knows what's going on at the DC region's paper of record, but if we can't even trust them to play it straight with their articles and keep on-the-record statements from key players on the record, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Post is to journalism what Metro is to mass transit.

Second version of the Washington Post's story: 

Original version of the Washington Post's story: 

Other items:
Metro's number two steps down (Examiner/ Post version)

Six teens indicted in Woodley Park murder (Examiner)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Demand Your Refund!

Metro isn't very clear about when exactly they'll give a refund because of delays, but they do give them.

In fact, they're giving quite a few, according to a Metro freedom of information request.

The above is the number of complimentary ride vouchers or the equivalent for SmarTrip "rectifications" in 2012.

Start demanding your free rides when you're delayed.  Yesterday's Orange Line meltdown likely delayed significantly more then 13,000 people. So did the Great Green Line Charlie Foxtrot of 2013.

Step up and let Metro know you won't stand for crappy service.  Write them at Those numbers should easily be double, tripled or more. Be warned: You may have to keep after them.

Other items:
Are we any safer as a result of Metro's sexual harassment campaign? (CASS)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Signs, More Waste

From Melanie:
Why is Metro putting up new, fancy signs that have a shelf life of less than a year?
I can understand that if Metro put up signs with Silver Line information now, it could be confusing, but why don't they just wait a few more months to put them up instead of creating these interim signs? We coped fine without them. Another few months won't make a difference.

I'm guessing that since this is Metro, all new signs will be put up when the Silver Line opens.

The waste, or more likely stupidity, at Metro is amazing.  It's harder and harder to resist the notion that Metro is a jobs program and then a transit system.

This sign is at Ballston, but there are much more intricate signs in the city showing the Blue Line connections through Rosslyn, for example.They can't be cheap.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nickel-and-Diming Riders? Part 3

From Anonymous:
I'm enrolled in Metro's "Threshold Autoload" where it automatically adds value to my SmarTrip card.

I finally looked at my usage report and discovered that if it reloads when I exit New Carrolton, but before I leave the parking lot, I get charged $8.25 for parking instead of $4.50!

Part 1
Part 2

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Rider Bill of Rights?

Reader Kathryn submitted a draft of a possible Metro rider bill of rights yesterday in response to Metro contemplating arresting riders who "self evacuate."

Please make any additions or suggestions in the comments and vote on them using the thumbs up/down button. I'll incorporate popular changes or suggestions into a final version.

 Let's see how far we can push this idea.

1. WMATA passengers have the right to a safe and clean riding environment, free from the threat of crime or safety violations, including in the parking lots, bus boarding areas, escalators, train boarding platforms, and the trains and buses.

2. WMATA passengers have the right to timely and regular updates as to whether key accessibility aspects of the WMATA transportation system are in working order, including escalators and elevators.

3. WMATA passengers shall not be held against their will in unbearable conditions on a stalled train. Unbearable conditions include, but are not limited to, excessive heat, excessive cold, lack of air circulation, or hazardous materials.

4. WMATA passengers have the right to disembark any bus or train that is stalled for more than 30 minutes.

5. WMATA passengers have the right to immediate assistance from trained police and medical personnel in the event of a crime or medical emergency. WMATA passengers shall not be denied access to the MTPD if the WMATA police are unable to respond in a timely fashion.

6. WMATA passengers have the right to courteous and professional interactions with WMATA personnel at all times.

7. WMATA passengers have the right to swift resolution of their problems or referral to a department that can assist them.
Other items:
Former detective claims Metro bungled death probe (Examiner)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Metro Contemplates Arresting Riders for 'Self Evacuation'

At the most recent board meeting, Metro officials, and the board the "oversees" them, discussed the troubling events of the Great Green Line Charlie Foxtrot of 2013.

Metro staff seemed to lay the bulk of the blame on a lowly operator and a lowly Metro Transit Police officer.

While the continued inability of the board and Metro staff to acknowledge the bigger picture is infuriating, the really shocking surprise came when the chairman of the board, Tom Downs, took center stage at what has become the most tragicomic open mic event in the DC region.

He said the one thing that "made the hair stand up on the back of his neck" was the passengers "self evacuating." He and the board showed how completely disconnected they are by agreeing that "self evacuating" is an irrational step for a rider to take.

Obviously, they've never been stuck in a dark, superheated Metro car for hours with people puking, pissing, having seizures and fighting while Metro provides absolutely no information. Obviously, they ignore a long pattern of Metro putting riders in similar situations or worse again and again.

But it gets worse as Downs searched for ways to stop "self evacuation." 

Here's the line of questions put forth by Downs to Metro staff:
"From an enforcement standpoint, can a police officer physically restrain passengers from self evacuation? Do they have the legal authority to do so? Can an officer arrest a customer?"
Read that again. Let it sink in. He's serious. That's his solution.

The response from Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn was "absolutely."

One has to wonder if ever in the history of mass transit did a subway system seriously contemplate arresting riders for trying to escape from a hellish situation caused by the subway system.

Whenever I think Metro has hit suck's rock bottom, someone at Metro or on the board opens up a new crate of dynamite and discovers a whole new, deeper shaft of suck.

Here's another view from DC Metro Sucks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Metro Execs Take Home Bonus Pay

Poor performance and generous salaries don't preclude Metro's leadership from being awarded bonus pay.

According to information provided to this blog in a freedom of information request, Metro's number two, Dave Kubicek, got  $5,000 in bonuses over the past two years. Kubicek makes a salary in excess of $240,000, plus a $30,000 housing allowance.

Metro's chief safety officer James Dougherty, took home over $185,000 in annual salary and was awarded a tidy $9,000 in bonuses.

Metro's chief propagandist, Assistant General Manager for Customer Service, Communications and Marketing, Lynn Bowersox, a newer member of the so-called executive leadership team took in $10,000 in bonuses. I couldn't find her salary, but one would assume it's in line with the other assistant general managers at around $190,000 per year.

Shiva Pant, Metro's chief of staff, made over $172,000 in salary and also walked away with $3,000 in bonuses, as did Metro's chief information officer, Kevin Borek, who makes $185,000 per annum. Yet another assistant general manager--Metro has five--Arthur Troup, made $5,000 in bonuses. Troup makes $190,000 a year.

The biggest beneficiary of Metro's taxpayer funded largesse was police chief Michael Taborn, who got $15,000 in bonuses on top of a salary of over $181,000.

The board wanted to give Metro GM Richard Sarles a bonus on top of his $350,000 salary, a $60,000 housing allowance and $3,200 per month pension from NJ Transit, where he used to work. Sarles at least had the sense to turn down the bonus offer. Not like he really needed it.

Other items:
Four years later and they're just getting around to the hotline (Examiner)
VRE riders offered discount for switching to Amtrak (Examiner)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Too Much to ask Metro Staff to be Vigilant?

From Josh:
At about 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 15, I was getting off the Branch Ave.-bound Green Line train at Naylor Road. As I was going down one of the rarely working escalators, a guy in his mid thirties was running up the escalators.

You could see in his eyes he had a malicious intent.

After pushing his way up the escalator, the punk started to raise his voice at a lady on the platform. As I was midway down the escalator,  the lady began to scream for help.  Everyone on the escalator, say 20 or so (and presumably everyone on the platform) turned around to watch what was going on. From my angle, I could see her head was level with the platform floor so she must have been knocked down. 

No one did anything as she screamed for help.

I ran down the escalator and saw a MTPD officer and SEVERAL WMATA employees in the kiosk. Apparently, the cameras and monitors they have are a waste of money because they, too, did nothing. 

As the punk passed everyone again on his way back, I informed the MTPD officer that the guy that just skipped the line at the turnstile without paying also just beat the sh*t out of a girl on the platform. They proceeded to mount up and chase the punk.

Apparently, this neighborhood is full of cowards--the kind of able-bodied young men/cowards that would hear a women scream for help and do nothing. But that is outside of WMATA's scope.

But what is within WMATA's scope is the station attendants in the booth chatting the day away and not watching nor listening to what is going on.

The southern portion of the Green Line isn't exactly a retirement community. The staff should be vigilant at all times of their surroundings. 

Either have staff willing to work, instead of taking siestas, or fire them all and reduce my cost by a few pennies.

Other items:
How OT abuse hurts riders (DC Metro Sucks)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Metro or Carnival?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

That First Step is a Doozy

This is a recurring problem at Metro.

From John:
Tuesday morning, I was on my way into the city on the Red Line when I heard, "Sh*t!" come from the train driver's cabin.

My head bolted up out of my newspaper because that's the last thing you want to hear from your train conductor, especially on the mishap-prone DC Metro system.

I was on the left side of the train, in the second seat from the front, and I looked out the window to see that I was looking at the concrete barrier at the end of the Rockville station. 
The driver has overshot the station by half a car's length.  The doors opened and luckily no one tried to exit the train at the front door.

Wonder if the reason this keeps happening is this:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Riders Give Details of Possible Metro Creepers

From an anonymous reader:
Be on the lookout for a armed, black male, mid to late 20s, 160-185 pounds, who dresses high-end urban casual who is robbing people between Potomac Ave. and Minnesota Ave. in the evening rush.

 I was his target just three Tuesday evenings ago, and he shoved a gun in my side and took everything on my person

He was wearing very nice back twill pants, a neon green shell jacket a baseball cap that had Raptors basketball logo on it.  He had an RG III haircut and was drunk.

Do what he says and get a call to 911 ASAP.
There are some reports of armed robberies on this segment on the latest Metro Transit Police blotter from December.

Another reader warns of a possible stalker. She said he's a 40-55 year-old Caucasian male, 6'-6'3", thin with thinning, light brown hair and balding at the top. He has thin, metal, Harry Potter-shaped glasses, light colored eyes (semi close together), large pointy noise and tends to swivel head often. He wears casual slacks, layered professional jackets, and solid black gym shoes.

The reader claims to have had five encounters with the man, four of them on the Orange Line. The encounters all involve what they called intense, menacing staring. The woman said it was so bad that she felt "threatened and extremely uncomfortable."

In one encounter:
He literally followed me off the same car of a Metro train despite him being in mid-squat about to sit down when he realized I was getting off. Immediately, after I exited the train, I boarded the train across the platform. The doors shut, and I spotted the man looking confusedly around on the platform, standing in the same place, when he made eye contact with me through the train doors and stared at me until my train departed. 
And in another encounter:
At Metro Center on the Orange line to New Carrollton platform, I was alone waiting on the train. The train approached, and I boarded, sat down, looked up and suddenly the man was there when I had not noticed him on the platform. Yet he boarded behind me. He would not stop staring at me even after I stared back at him to communicate that I was feeling threatened by him. He kept staring and was looking at my things, so I did not want to pull out any personal items or give him any hints of who I was. I felt so threatened, I exited the train at Smithsonian station. He continued to stare at me through the window, sitting in the seat I was just in, until the train departed. 
The reader said she'dcalled Metro Transit Police about the man, but they "recommend taking a picture of him and reporting him. The police cannot currently act upon this report because no physical harassment has been committed."
I am not one to keep riding the Metro to wait until that does happen. Please contact police if you see this man. Note that no verbal communication has been made so there is no voice description for this man.
Other items:
99 harassment cases reported to Metro (Examiner)
Study casts doubt on rapid bus transit in MoCo (WaPo)
Metro tries to lure FBI to PG (WaPo)
Metro's legal bills for Red Line crash cases reach $7.5 million (WaPo)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nickel-and-Diming Riders? Part 2

From Robin:
About a year ago, I switched jobs. At my former and current places of employment, I have had SmartBenefits deducted from my paycheck, pre-tax. Unlike government employees, I was not given extra money from my employers.
Since I already had a SmartTrip card registered, I used my current card's information when I registered for pre-tax deductions from my new employer. Whenever I was due to receive benefits from my paycheck, my account was frozen and wiped of all stored SmartBenefits. Due to vacation I had to take at my previous job before I left (no unused vacation payout), I had $80 and some change in SmartBenefits stored. My SmartBenefits from my new job were also not added because the account was frozen.

After talking to a somewhat helpful customer service representative, I was told that since I had benefits from a previous employer on my card, I could not receive benefits from my new employer and the card was frozen. I was told that a card can be connected to only one employer at a time. She was able to update the card with my new employer's information, and in about 36 hours, I was able to start using the SmartBenefits from my new employer. Until then, I survived on paper fare cards.

I was also told that the $80 and some change that was taken out of my paycheck, pre-tax, would revert back to my old employer and I would have to get it from them. Of course, I contacted both HR and payroll at my old job and told them the situation. They said they didn't know of such a policy since the money was taken out of my paycheck, but as soon as they received it, [they said] I would receive a check from them. Three months passed with me calling SmartTrip Customer Service and calling and emailing my old employer multiple times, each claiming the other would have the money. After numerous attempts, I cut my losses and accepted I would never see that $80 again.

I can't be the only person in this situation. Where does the money go?

Nickel-and diming riders? Part 1

Other items:
Homicides, theft of electronics on the rise (Examiner)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nickel-and-Diming Riders? Part 1

From Aaron:
I recently setup Auto Reload on my registered SmarTrip card.

The credit card that was on the account became compromised, and I had to wait to receive a new one as the credit card company canceled it.

During this time my SmarTrip dropped below the $20 minimum, and Metro could not charge the credit card, naturally.

By the time I got the new card, I got an email from Metro stating that they cancelled the Auto Reload and wiped my SmarTrip clean of any funds because they could not charge my credit card.

 I had about $19 and some change left on the card.

I do not understand why they would zero out my SmarTrip card.

That is my money.  They charged my credit card. Why would Metro steal from me?

I have tried calling and emailing the address and phone number on the back of the card, but my pleas to reimburse my card have gone unanswered.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Metro Stonewalls Pentagon

Illustration from this event. Photo via Kate

On Jan. 30, I published a story about how the Pentagon escalators had been allowed to run for months without undergoing routine safety inspections. In effect, Metro was rolling the dice with riders' safety.

I thought perhaps someone in the media would try to follow up, but alas, they didn't. I'd hoped the story was wrong and that Metro hadn't risked riders' lives. I'd hoped Metro would offer proof to debunk my tipster, but they didn't.

But one reader wanted to know more.

They wrote the Pentagon's facility management group asking them to look into it. The Pentagon said they'd asked Metro about it,  and while the answer is hardly satisfying, it does show that Metro answers to no one--not even the Pentagon.

Names and titles are redacted at the request of the reader.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Monday, February 04, 2013 10:26 AM
Subject: RE: Metro Escalators

Mr. XXX,

Couldn't get as much from Metro as I'd like, but Metro reports the

The current escalators at Pentagon Station are 18 years old and are being
scheduled for replacement. The first escalator replacement project (south
escalator) is currently underway and project mobilization will occur as
early as today, but sometime this week at the latest.

Metro will not comment on blog articles or other numerous non-official
websites that may be available for public viewing. Equipment and facility
inspections are an on-going SOP for Metro.


How are we doing?  http://www.xxxxxxx
Pretty unbelievable.

As I've said before, we're all alone out here. No one has our backs. Even when the U.S. military asks Metro for more information, they get stonewalled with Metro BS.

Other items: 
Cell phone coverage delayed again (Examiner)
Public outreach meetings seems scheduled for minimal attendance (WMATA)
Metro issues pathetic "investigation" results on July Green Line meltdown (WaPo)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Metro's 24-car Frankentrain

UPDATE: Predictably, Dan Stessel denied this story to the City Paper.  Doesn't appear as if the reporter cared to press Dan for details of his side of the story. For example, why did it take over two hours to perform what should have been a routine train rescue? 

Remember that time when Metro took riders hostage?

No, not the Great Green Line Charlie Foxtrot of 2013. I'm talking about a few days earlier on Jan. 27 when Metro held 44 people for two hours in a dark, cold train on the Orange Line.

Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel explained part of the story to the Examiner and said the delays were because Metro used an "abundance of caution."

"It was an extremely long delay, north of two hours for passengers who were on that train," Stessel told the Examiner. "The more important thing for us is that it was handled safely."

For them? Wow. Anyway.

It was not an abundance of caution, but rather an abundance of incompetence that caused the delays, says a Metro source. And not only did those riders pay with two hours of their lives, but we'll all pay for the damage done in the wake of Metro's "solution" to the problem.

Here's what happened, according to a source.

The 8-car train with passengers was heading toward New Carrollton when, between Cheverly and Landover, it suddenly lost all power and came to a stop.

Sadly, Metro loses power all the time, but there were some strange aspects to this power outage.

First of all, two earlier trains also experienced power problems after passing through the same area. Stessel confirmed this to the Examiner, telling the paper those trains made it to Landover and were taken out of service.

This pattern of power loss set off no alarms among Metro officials, and here's where things got interesting.

After the train got stuck outside Cheverly, the third rail checked out fine.  No outages. Full power.

But every single car was without power. The source said it's not uncommon for one car to lose power, but for all of them to be without power and to have the third rail functioning should have initiated some proactive thinking.

But instead of thinking, or checking the tracks, Metro sent another, empty train right through the same problem area toward the stranded train to "rescue" it. In the same location, that train also suddenly lost power and stopped.

Metro now had two stranded, powerless trains, and everyone was scratching their heads.

According to the source, the calls started going out to the superintendent, who was at home. The superintendent told a Metro supervisor at New Carrollton to get on another train and come at the two stranded ones from the opposite way. Unfortunately, the employee charged with this task was not qualified to rescue trains.

What did they do?

Probably in an attempt to remedy the situation in the fastest--not the most safe--way possible, they coupled the two disabled trains together, then attached the third train.

He'd assembled a behemoth, 24-car train.

Was it ingenuous thinking on the employee's part?

Unfortunately not.

According to the source, rescue trains should only pull another train of the same length or less. An eight-car train can pull another eight-car train, for example, but six should not pull eight.

In this case Metro had eight cars pulling 16 cars of dead weight. Quite a task.

The source said the strain created a "slinky" effect as the good train huffed and puffed to pull the rest of the dead cars. The train was constantly sputtering under the stress causing the dead cars to bang into one another then pull apart violently destroying or severely damaging many of the couplers, the mechanism the allows cars to lock together. It was enough force to sheer large bolts.

The source said it would take at least 16 man hours just to take off and replace one coupler. They didn't know how long it would take to repair the damaged ones, but they said it would be expensive.

"There were no qualified people on the scene the entire time," said the source.

The train finally limped to safety and the passengers were released.

It was later discovered, as Stessel said (sorta), that there was an obstruction of some kind on the tracks which had clipped off all of the trains' collector shoes, the parts of the train that contacts the third rail. There are two of those per car.

But during the entire episode, no one thought it was a good idea to check out the tracks.

"Losing power like that on a train should have been a huge red flag," the source said. "Nobody asked any questions. They were blindly following standard operating procedures."

The source, who's been at Metro a long time said "24 cars has to be a record."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where There's Smoke, There's Not Always Fire

The initial cause of the Green Line meltdown was something called an arcing insulator. Insulators are part of the support structure for the third rail and they are spread about every 10 feet along it. For them to smoke is not uncommon at Metro. To the untrained eye, the smoke can look like a major problem, but it's relatively routine and doesn't pose much of a threat, several Metro sources confirm.

But at Metro, even small, relatively insignificant problems like an arching insulator seem to regularly cascade into full-blown crises. I wanted to find out why.

Here's how a small incident gets escalated into a major even like last Wednesday. It's based on conversations with sources knowledgeable about how Metro reacts to this kind of event.

First, someone, probably an operator, saw the smoking (arcing) insulator. The operator called Operations Control Center (OCC/Central) to report the smoke.

Then, because  "[OCC has] no idea that an arcing insulator is not a big deal," OCC called the fire department, according to a source.

"These people at OCC overreact to everything and don't listen when you say it's just an arcing insulator," said the source. "They don't have a clue, and when they hear 'smoke,' their first reaction is to call the fire department. When someone who knows what's going on offers to help, it sounds all foreign to them. They have no knowledge of electricity."

A second source agreed that Metro relies too much on the fire department in these kind of situations and that it complicates everything.

"Now we've got to have a show," they said. "I'm all for safety, but you can't get sent to the ICU  every time you get a headache. Central took away any decision making from the field. They can't see, don't know what's going on and can't communicate. They default to EMT. Nobody wants to take charge, so they pass the buck to the firefighters."

A third source said "there's very little knowledge of how Metro really works at OCC. They've worked at OCC, and that's it, yet our lives and yours are in their hands, and the way Metro is set up, they make all the decisions. They'll do anything to avoid making any kind of decision, so they call the fire department and wash their hands of it all."

One source, who has been at Metro a long time, says over their career, there have been two occasions when the fire department was really needed.

The source claimed that in the not-so-distant past, arcing insulators were dealt with by sending someone into the tunnel with a sledgehammer to literally smash the insulator, ending the problem immediately. With one insulator gone, trains can still pass safely through the area, and the insulator can be replaced later, at a more convenient time, they said.

"I've seen two track guys with a sledgehammer correct [arcing insulators] in a minute or two, and it takes the fire department 30 to 40 minutes," the source said. "Now, [OCC will] call the fire department 70 percent of time time, it was the opposite 10 or 15 years ago."

Another source called sledgehammer practice "old school," saying it's probably better just to let the insulator burn out.

Both sources agreed that while area fire departments receive occasional primers from Metro on how the system works, the firefighters aren't totally comfortable in the Metro environment, adding to delays. Furthermore, fire departments usually operate methodically, which again adds to the delays.

"Their aim is not to get the trains rolling again, it's to do things by the book," said a source.

"They are not very trusting of Metro," said another source. "You blame them?"

Calling the fire department sets the table for subsequent events, sources said. Add bad radios and incompetence into this mix, and you get the the Great Green Line Charlie Foxtrot of 2013.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

10 Things You Need to Know if You 'Self Evacuate'

Photo via MetroForward

Yesterday,  I ran into another person stuck below the Anacostia River last Wednesday, and while their tale is not quite as harrowing as Scott's, they recount fights breaking out, sweltering conditions, darkness and absolutely no information from the outside getting to the passengers.

"It would have been so much better if they'd just told us what was going on," they said. "They didn't say anything."

They said that at one point, a rider used the emergency intercom to contact the operator who answered that they, too,  knew nothing. Later, once people started self evacuating,  the operator came over the intercom and said something to the effect that self evacuation was riders' call.

Later, the operator came through the train with what appeared to be their personal belongings. They said nothing to riders.

Self evacuation is certainly a last resort, and not something to take lightly. I can't really say how I'd react in the conditions described on the Green Line that fateful Wednesday.

But should you ever decide it's the right move for you, here are some things to think about. They provided by a Metro source with considerable experience walking Metro's tunnels.

1. Text only if you have to communicate. The cell phone signals in those tunnels are very weak, and your cell phone is going to be burning battery trying to connect to the cell tower. Which leads to #2

2. Airplane mode your cell phone. Save battery.

3. If you must walk, the catwalks are full of overhead hazards. Keep your eyes open to them. There are also areas where water intrusion has made the place slippery. With no trains running, it is safer to just walk down on the bed between the catwalk and the rail away from the third.

4. Do not bunch up. You won't be able to see any tripping hazards, and if someone slips, there will be a domino effect. Also, if you must look back, stop and look.

5. Use those phones on the catwalks. If you dial zero, you will contact central. Call them and ask them to run the exhaust fans to circulate the air in the area. You'd be surprised how much they forget. With that said, those fans are huge and loud. Don't panic when they come on if near you.

6. If you have no sense of direction, there are markers every 100 feet. If you see the numbers are increasing then you are walking away from downtown.

7. Always have a flashlight, and some spare batteries. Also, a small bottle of water.

8. Without any reflective gear, it will be very hard for you to be seen from a distance. A few bucks will buy you either a reflective vest or some reflective tape at Home Depot.

9. Don't get cute touching equipment on the wayside. Third rail may be down, but there are other subsystems that have electricity. Those rails are still carrying current.

10. Realize that by walking the tracks, you've now made it much worse for those who cannot walk them, like the elderly or handicapped.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sorry Sarles

Metro GM Richard Sarles issued an rare online apology to Green Line riders in the wake of the Green Line meltdown last Wednesday. It's better than nothing, but I found a few things worth noting. They're not in any specific order.

First, why was it only addressed to Green Line riders? Yes, they had it the worst, but when a public service screws up that bad, I think all of us who fund it and have to use it should receive an apology from its leader. Wednesday night was just another example of how Metro is failing, and Sarles needs to acknowledge those failures to all riders.

Second, why weren't riders officially offered refunds? I know Metro gives them, but to depend on sporadic media reports to get the word out seems disingenuous. Metro should officially, through alerts, emails and on the website, announce it will give free ride passes to anyone who claims to have been affected. Yes, there will be some scammers, but it's worth to appear seriously sorry to riders. Better yet, why not have a free Metro weekend for everyone? The service isn't worth that much anyway, so why not engender some goodwill? Besides, the damage to the bottom line will probably be equivalent to what the Planning Department blows in a single day on Dr. Dre Beats earbuds and silly studies.

Third, where are the details? In typical Metro-ese, the whole thing is just so passive, i.e. the trains "lost power." Is that just another phenomenon? Trains just don't lose power. What happened? Also, there's no mention of the arcing insulator, which is what set this failball into motion in the first place. Level with us, Dick. I think you'd be surprised how much better Metro's image would be in the long run if people just felt Metro told the truth.

Fourth, why does the apology just say they're going to improve their response to these kinds of emergencies? Why is there not one mention about what he's going to do to ensure these kinds of incidents don't happen at all, or are incredibly rare? There's nothing about that. To me, the subtext is there are going to be lots more of these, so Metro's going try to raise the bar a little in how they react but will ignore the core problem. Of course, Metro said the same thing in July after a similar incident. Up your every day game, Metro. Then you won't have to worry about these things.

Fifth, the little nod to the D.C, Fire Department is because someone from Metro, likely the chief spokesman Dan Stessel, told the Washington Post that emergency responders (DCFD) had cut third rail power, implying much of the mess wasn't Metro's fault. From what my sources tell me, Metro is always charged with taking down third rail power for emergency responders. Sarles later admitted Metro turned the power off, but I'm sure DCFD bristled at the quote. I'm guessing this is the reason the apology was issued in the first place.

Finally, why was the mea culpa not on the front page of the Metro website? Why was it sent out as an advisory and not a news release? Why is it set to expire in a couple weeks? It should part of the permanent record.

It's not all bad though. During Thursday's afternoon rush, there was a report of Sarles at Navy Yard meeting and greeting passengers. That's a good move, and something that should be a regular part of job.

The day after issuing the apology, Sarles issued this memo to employees:
Yesterday I issued a public apology to our Green Line customers for Wednesday night’s service disruption. Although we’ve made improvements to the way we respond to incident trains, we learned that we have more work to do. I also heard stories about passengers helping each other, including one woman who graciously shared her cell phone with others so they could notify loved ones, child care providers and employers of their delay. Another customer assisted an expectant mother by carrying her toddler out of a train without power. While I have thanked the DC Fire Department and National Park Service Police for their effective assistance, I also want to thank our employees – especially bus operators – who helped customers find their way home. I received numerous customer commendations for the operator of one of the incident trains who kept his passengers calm with his reassuring tone and constant communication. This extra care for our customers is what I expect, and they deserve, so thanks to all who went the extra mile.

Have a safe and enjoyable Super Bowl week

Have fun with that.

Other items:
Watch those slippery tiles (Examiner)
More finger pointing over Silver Spring transit center (WaPo)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Amazing First Person Account from the Green Line Meltdown

Via @thatsjulian: @unsuckdcmetro a picture from the 2 hour stranded train I was on last night. Sure you already know the details.

From Scott:
I had quite the adventure on my four-hour commute home Wednesday night. I was one of those passengers trapped in the dark train underground. The following is my account of the events as they unfolded.

I boarded my first train at Foggy Bottom around 4:45 p.m., transferred at L'Enfant Plaza without incident. Once I got on the platform at L'Enfant Plaza, the signs said to expect delays. I waited about 15 minutes for the train to come. By this time, the platform was absolutely packed with people. Everyone crammed into the train. We went one stop, and the train operator announced the train was going out of service, and everybody would have to get off at the next stop. This had apparently happened to two other trains as well, so the platform hardly had room for us to get off the train. It was pretty damn unsafe. The train operator kept announcing to board the next train on the opposite side of the track, and it would take us in the direction we were headed due to them single tracking around a track fire.

The next thing that happened, and I wish I had this recorded was—the station announcer came on the PA system and starting announcing, “At this time, the station manager KNOWS NOTHING, I repeat, the station manager KNOWS NOTHING.” This was very unsettling to the mob on the platform. Then, a train arrived on the same side we just got off on, and announces it was going our direction. At the same time the train came, the station manager was on the PA stating no trains were heading in our direction and they have no information on any trains going in our direction, so we should all exit the station and get a bus or a cab. That train left, I was nowhere close to getting on. There were three trains worth of pissed off people all pushing and shoving to get on it. I stayed out of the way. The next train came and announced it was going in our direction, as the station manager once again comes on the PA system saying no trains are heading in our direction—UNBELIEVABLE.

I got on that train, we went maybe a mile and the train went dark--all power was shut off. The train drifted along the tracks with a ghostly, eerie silence until it came to a powerless stop. One light came on in the car I was in. It was packed with probably a few hundred people. We were standing face to face, practically on top of one another. The train operator said, he was not sure what happened and was calling into central. We had emergency battery power on, which had enough power to keep emergency lighting on but no air circulation.

The next two hours were spent in the dark on the train. An hour in, panic started to set in. In our car, one woman had passed out. We heard people pounding on windows in other cars, we heard glass breaking and people screaming. More than two hours in, folks in our car forced open the emergency door to get some air into the car. Some actually exited and walked the tunnel. Mind you, we were in the dark somewhere under the Anacostia River. Inside, the temperature was close to 90 degrees. Most people managed to get their coats off, and in some cases, even shirts came off. I was dripping with sweat, but tried to keep breathing and conserve my energy and keep calm. I did not talk much, and kept my eyes closed while standing face to face and body to body with the other sweaty passengers.

About two and a half hours, someone threw up in our car. The car also smelt of urine. I’m certain more than one person had pissed themselves. The car smelt rank, and the situation was getting out of control. Multiple emergency doors were forced open, and now passengers were wandering around in the train tunnels in the dark. The train operator came by our car, asked us to help him get the door closed and said not to open it again. He said several other doors were open and had to be closed.  He had police and firemen with him. They were trying to round up everyone and get them back on the train before the fire department would give permission to the power company to restore power to the third rail.

Once the train operator got all passengers back on train and all doors closed, the power came on. The train operator said we would be moving forward, but at a very slow pace, as there might be stray passengers wandering around in the tunnel.

They took a good 30 minutes to get everyone off who needed medical assistance.  I got home close to 9 p.m. that night.

Reflecting on the entire situation makes one think how fragile we are and how dependent we’ve become as a society. It only took two hours for complete panic to set in. People were making irrational decisions, bringing potential danger to themselves and others. Suppose it was a real bad situation, like an earthquake, where a station collapsed, and we had to be down there for 24 hours. I could not even imagine the havoc and chaos that would come about. After this incident, I am rethinking Metro and public transportation. I am not sure I could go through something like this again, not for my own sanity, but for my safety. Everyone else's minds went wild, like zombies.

You would have thought Metro might have covered the trip plus parking, but I paid in full, like one normally would.
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